Sports Marketing For Athletes
I hope you liked the interview about sports marketing for athlete with sports marketing expert Keld Strudahl from Brand Activators – whether you watched the somewhat shorter version on my You Tube channel or listened to it on the Athlete Story podcast.
I’m really grateful for Keld’s generosity in sharing his unique insight on:
- the most common mistakes he sees athletes making when looking for a sponsor and
- what companies are actually looking for when considering whether or not to sign a sponsorship deal.
You can read the full interview in the transcript below, but as I promised you can also get my notes from the show with the main takeaways sent to your email. Click the green button here and enter the email you want it sent to.
READ the transcript of full interview by clicking here.
INTRO: What are the most common mistakes that athletes make when pitching a sponsor? And what are companies actually looking for when deciding whether or not to sign a sponsorship deal? Well those are some of the questions you will get the answer to in this episode of the For Athletes series, so stay with me as I meet a real sport marketing expert from the corporate world who’s been dealing with sponsorships for the past 30 years!
Today’s guest is former global marketing Director for the Carlsberg Breweries- Keld Strudahl. He took the Carlsberg brand into sports marketing way back in the early 1990s and then for the following 22 years, together with the marketing team, he fulfilled and nurtured their international sport marketing strategy. Now, for the past six years he’s been acting as an independent sports marketing strategist and consultant through his own company called Brand Activators. He uses his unique experience to help sports properties – that’s what you call things like the UEFA, international clubs, federations and athletes on the one side and then big brands and corporations who need advice in executing a sponsor strategy on the other side. Now I was lucky to meet Keld in one of his favorite places on a beautiful day in this world rowing club of Humlebæk just North of Copenhagen Denmark. A short break he had just after the World Championships in ice hockey, and the Champions League… which are just some of the clients that he’s working with!
So if you’re ready let’s go to Humlebæk. Come on follow me.
(Perhaps before we move on I should just tell the listeners to not worry about us getting washed away by the waves that you can probably hear in the background, it’s actually very calm here and we’re sitting safely on the pier enjoying the sun).
Anja: Hi Keld, Welcome to the show Athlete Story! You are just back from the world championships in ice hockey.
Keld: It’s been a couple of visiting months, with the planning circuit of ice hockey which peaked with a month of heavy activities. Parallel I had to do the Danish championship in football, then right after I went to Kiev to the UEFA Champions League. -Not only my my favorite team Liverpool played against Real Madrid – unfortunately we lost! – but other than that it was great. I had some great meetings and a few chats with UEFA officials. I was actually enrolled from the beginning in 1993/1994, it’s amazing how that tournament has developed into not only the most successful sports property but also probably the most successful money machine in the world.
Anja: So you work mostly with big events and properties like the UEFA brand?
Keld: What I do mostly is, I advise sports federations, clubs the likes of FC Barcelona, likes of the Champions League. You sometimes are surprised about that … it’s a great product, they play fantastic football, they have a fantastic tournament but sometimes they’re not very good at the commercial side of it.
That’s where I am actually stepping in to say: Shouldn’t I help you optimize, maximize, your sports property? On the other side, like for my former company Carlsberg, I’d step in to say how can we activate your brand better once you have signed yours.
Anja: So in a way you work on both sides?
Keld: Oh yeah I do. Very much. And which one I like most? Honestly I like both, I really do.
Originally, when I left Carlsberg which is now just six years ago, my whole idea was to take what I learned from brand marketing, brand strategy and turn it into sports marketing. I had the idea that actually most companies probably needed my help in terms of executing and activating sponsorships.
Anja: when you’re out there at these events, what is it that you do? Because I imagine most of the job will be before… right?
Keld: Yeah it’s a combination, I mean and each event, each sponsorships or sports marketing properties are very different. Particularly my role as a consultant and advisor to different properties. It can be from the ice hockey, which was primarily finding the marketing strategy and ticket strategy and then once it came into operation, I turned into being part of their operations team which is not really what I do normally, but given that this is the biggest event in Denmark, ever plus the fact that way way back, I had quite a bit of experience in operation and mind you, I have been in this game for 30 years. I think I have 14 Olympic events behind me and the same with world championship in football and in many other things, so I offer my help to the organization… say if I can help somehow you know so…
Anja: that’s your super power…
Keld: yeah yeah exactly somehow.
And I learn lots from the athletes as well and it is a privilege to be with all these different athletes and some are easy and some have better than other one…it’s a great world. When I left Carlsberg that was kind of my idea that I instead of having it for 50% of the time now I want to do a hundred percent time. Now I’m six years down the road, it seems to be doing quite well so it’s okay.
Anja: It’s definitely useful, and especially like the whole landscape, I imagine, around marketing and sports marketing, must be so different now with all these new media… Well, not “new” now but compared to ten years ago it’s new right.
Anja: yeah so there’s gotta be a lot of opportunities – and also a lot of confusion – if you’ve been used to doing it the same way.
Keld: It is a fragmented world. There’s a lot of opportunities, there’s also a lot of traps, which you could get into, which you don’t really understand and I think – also for me – it’s a learning curve.
I mean, when I started this it was just about getting, you know,… I used to joke about there’s always 10 points of it’s all about getting as much media exposure as possible, it’s about selling as many tickets as possible, and then try and calculate it out and you can literally list, not even ten points when you sold a sponsorship.
If you look at today.. I unfortunately still think a lot of people do like that and that’s not really my opinion. That’s what I’m trying to take away and say well we need to do it more differently.
It’s still the mantra for many sports federations athletes, it’s also still the mantra and for many corporations who buy into sports sponsorships – that okay it’s all about exposure, it’s all about hospitality and that’s it.
I always say to people when I go into discussions with federation’s for instance: Try to close your eyes and take the imagination you don’t have any TV coverage what will you do then? And the room is completely silent. No one is used to not having big TV contracts, but that’s nevertheless the fact today. Except from football.
To a certain extent a couple of other sports. Most of us that have been team contract, so you’ll need to come up with new ideas of how to develop, that’s a challenge for everybody including myself but you should do that. That’s the way you should force yourself to think in my opinion.
Anja: I know from the inside, having both been part of the Freeride World Tour and I did one year freelance with them as well – and it’s a like a private tour where they’ve said: Okay we do the media production. We don’t need the TV, yeah if they need us, we can sell it or however that works, but that could be a strategy for…
Keld: and I think it’s a good strategy, particularly with the kind of new media as you said, which is not new anymore but still is looked upon as new media because, if you take the old ski world where you are coming from, if you take the classical alpine ski world, my prediction is that within 5-10 years, they’re gonna suffer extremely because they’re still depending on a few big countries like Austria and Switzerland, to a certain extent France and Italy, who still put quite a lot of money on national broadcast TV.
But nobody watches TV at 10 o’clock in the morning or whenever you the athletes are on there. Unfortunately.
Well, I think the pro freeride tour, and some of the more upcoming types of new sports and skiing, they have got the message because – it’s a cliche but – they were starving. So they needed to come up with something else.
Whereas the other guys are still relatively big fat guys sitting there having the TV contracts. They don’t care about that.
But these guys are really proactive, and very curious about what to do. And I think the pro freeride tour is a perfect example of that. Where you really manage to do your own TV, send it out and – I don’t know exactly the amount of money they get for it- but I think it’s a it’s a very nice concept which I have to say I admire. I wish more to do that.
Anja: Now, I have been a lot of involved with Olympic Sports and Olympic athletes and I heard an interview in Canada, where they referred to Olympians as “the cheap labor of the Olympic Committee” … Because well everybody around seems to get their salary and their pay, but the athletes are pretty much “starving”..
Anja: So, what can you do in it as an Olympic athlete to try and become worth more so that you’re attractive to a sponsor deal?
Keld: It’s a very good question. I don’t think I have the right answer but, I have some answers for you and I think I have some ideas about it. But it is tough. I mean because – yeah I hate to say this word but it is a lot about personal branding -and I know it’s a tough balance – because you need to focus on that you have to be good at what you do and you need to beat the guys – and again if you are number 34 or something like that, then of course the interests for you as a product – because the product is about how you perform and if you win medals – then sponsors are: Okay great there’s medal, so we can use him or her for something. Either an advertising campaign or whatever.
Whereas if you’re not there, you need to look into yourself as a brand and how can you help a particular sponsor or corporation in being together somehow. And that’s not easy. Because also most companies today are extremely skeptical and critical about how they take upon new sponsorships. So if an athlete comes to …if I take my old job.. if an athlete came to me and asked for support I would immediately ask you: Okay what can you deliver?
And at that time many athletes – I think that athletes have become much better today – but at that time, many athletes would be like: Well I’m good at skiing, I’m good at badminton, I’m good at tennis, whatever. But my point was: Okay fine, but if you’re not top three, what is my return? What do I get?
And most of the time they didn’t know what to say.
And I think the good example is if an athlete comes in and has the opportunity to show that actually they could do more, either like yourself, physical programs with the HR department or appearances at different conferences….But it also requires a lot of skills. I mean,
I’m also from the sports world myself originally and I know that not everybody is capable of doing that sort of extroverted-ness that they have to do. But I’m sorry to say but that’s a little bit the name of the game today. It’s not just about being good at your sport. You need to be good at selling yourself, brand yourself, like…
Anja: Like, you’re a bit of an entrepreneur as an athlete.
Keld: In a way yeah. You need to. And I think it’s amazing when I see that, because you’re right, they are kind of cheap labor in many ways. Luckily, I think many governments start supporting and put more money behind this, so that it’s not just about cheap labor.
But before that comes to an end one day, you need to find out how you balance that work.
Of course as a coach, I would always say you should be focusing on the training because that’s what should drive you to the good results. But then you also probably need to have it a little bit like, say rock stars, pop stars. They have an entourage. They have a manager, they have a trainer, whatever…. a singing trainer whatever. And you need that also as an athlete today.
Anja: … So maybe that’s an investment that you should do pretty early on and say: Okay that’s another cost from a budget that’s very little to non-existent. But, maybe that is just like the seed you need.
Keld: I think once you have your – it’s probably the wrong word to say – but I think first of all, as an athlete – and you know that – you need to set your goals, set your objectives, your mission and what you want to achieve. And that’s fine. if you say I want to be number one, number two or three, four that’s fine.
But alongside of that, you also need to say: Fine, I need X amount of money. How do I get that?
Okay is that by, from day one, you go to a wealthy guy or company whatever and say: okay I can help you with X,Y, and Z?
I think that’s the best way to do it it’s not easy. It’s a sales job, you all know that.
Also in my business today, I need to be selling as well: I can’t just sit here and think everybody’s going to be coming to me, saying I want you to help me.
So it’s a tough way. It is tough. Sometimes, a little bit unfair, I think. Because you athletes give so much back to the society in many aspects – but there’s also many of you. And if you look upon it today, you have football up here – which is un-describable why it’s so successful for many reason – even though I’m very much involved in that but…You can’t touch that.
You need to think about what else is there. I think there are massive opportunities but it’s also a a red ocean. There are many working and trying to get in there, so you need to find ways to go to the blue ocean, to use that analogy. That’s really important.
Anja: And ways to differentiate yourself… I imagine. Because if we all come with the same sponsor proposals…
Keld: Yes. And that’s a little bit back to my 10 points or 5 points… Many come with the same, saying I can give you X amount of exposure…. I can give you X amount of this and that.
You need to think out of box. I can’t take a good example at the moment but, I just remember when people start – well I can probably offer you a session, where I will take your to top management to a particular event – whether it’s skiing or it’s sailing, whatever. At that time I think: Wow okay this guy’s got something.
Keld: I can actually give you a good example because we were sponsor of the Danish Olympic Sailing Team which. They were supported by Team Denmark (NOC) but they were also a little bit individual. And when we signed the deal, we signed a little bit out of the Team Denmark sponsorship.
We said to them clearly, yes we know we’re not gonna get very much exposure. You’re not the biggest sport in Denmark. But you are great bunch of guys. So you need to help us with how we can develop things together.
So we developed everything from you know okay, get on Match race – which at that time was first time ever you know. We had you know some of our clients out on the boat learning how to sail the boat… all about the psychological…. – Because athletes like this they’re extremely powerful in terms of their determination and how they train…
I think it was one of the most successful sponsorships ever – even though it was a small one. It was great because there was dedication. And I think…. one point which we just talked about also when I was in Kiev – the engagement factor is so important today.
How do you engage yourself with your sports property and sponsor? How do they engage instead of just having this: Okay you’ve got ten minutes of exposure fine or you get 100 tickets for a final.
That’s also important. But we need to find that engagement factor …
Anja: … if you can be part of the story, like a mutual story.
Keld: yeah…exactly that’s important
Anja: I can come with another example… actually just thinking about that right now…When I qualified for the Olympics for the first time in mogul skiing, a Danish Journalist…rest in peace because he’s no longer with us. But he got this idea for, it was a union. They wanted to test sports sponsoring so they didn’t know anything about it.
They just had the example of another union who had great success with Danish team handball.
And so he said: Well I know this young athlete – she’s probably cheap – and you can make some experience into what sponsorship is. So that can beanother angle, like hey you’re not as expensive as a single person and the company can make some experiences, and they actually they ended up measuring that 2% of the Danish population knew what mogul skiing was before yeah and after it was 50%. so it was successful with a lot of money.
Keld: And they got something out of it?
Anja: yeah because they had like a members’ magazine, so there was always a little story in there.
Keld: yeah good! It’s about finding this – particular for individual athletes. which is not easy, I admit that – I think it is to try and think out of the box and find a point of difference where I mean…. Marketing is about USP. What is your unique selling point. You need to find that within your your own brand so to speak. And and I think – I haven’t thought too much about what I’m saying now but – if you if you turn it around and you say: Okay well today the world is so fragmented – and that’s actually where I think many of the big properties such as football – no not necessarily football – but some of those this below, they will suffer a little bit.
Because nobody has that kind of money they ask for – just to put on one thing.
Whereas most brands today, even the big brands like the coca-cola, Apple and so on, they think very much in small pockets.
So I think if one athlete could find a way of getting into that one of thosesmall pockets, then there’s money for them.
But again, you need to find the storyline. What can I do that makes your brand successful inthat particular area?
Whether that’s the social media story following Anja for the next 10 years, 10 months or something. Fine
Or it’s come to a ten presentations or speeches with Anja whatever. Then I think there is something. And that’s that’s maybe where there is a better chance for many athletes today than just going up against the big boys. Because the big boys will most likely always be there and they are still extremely conservative in the way they market themselves. Why – well because TV is still the biggest contributor, so in a way they don’t really care too much about thinking out of the box.
I live very much from a small sort like sentence called Cairo. It’s all about how you need to be consistent with what you are doing.
And you need to have some kind of awareness in what you do.
The relevance is really important because many times – well in my old job – you have athletes come and say: okay well I’m a marathon runner, I want you to be a sponsor with me. And I say think about it Carlsberg, a beer sponsoring an athlete in marathon, does that make sense?
– Yeah yeah it does.
But I’m an alcohol brand…
I still see that. Think relevance in what you do and then be innovative in what you do!
That’s “the eye” in what I’m saying.
And finally the organization also. You need to be organized. You need to find a way of organizing yourself so you can also deliver what you are promising so to speak.
That’s also sometimes an issue. For both parts as a matter of fact. But you also need to ask the people from the organization who become sponsor to have…like, you can say:
– If we have a partnership you also need to set aside either a person or a certain amount of resources to make sure that actually we can bring it together because otherwise it doesn’t make sense. So that to me is very important..
Anja: what do you think of the idea of athletes grouping together to make… like say, you have a sailing athlete and a skiing athlete and they have different seasons and but still kind of the same image of being outdoors and could there be an idea of grouping together and proposing like a package of…?
Keld: That’s a good idea i think. Honestly I mean I would again find the company who you think could do things like that then I think it’s fantastic
Anja: …because I think that could take away a little bit of the vulnerability of sponsoring just one athlete. Like with the chances of injuries and…
Keld I think if you have the right company I think yeah. I can’t just think about anybody but I think it would be great to… if you are in skiing or you are in sailing you’re maybe in running and another sport badminton, tennis…. battery so nobody knows
From a company point of view, I think it would be great if you could offer say to your employees or your business contacts. Wow I’ve got four different setups of athletes… I think that’d be fantastic. I think another – just thinking about this now… I think there’s actually an interesting story also…. I’m sure you’ve heard about this but there are many sort of entrepreneurs that are thinking about about well if I have my daughters and they want to be goodat tennis then they offer them special tennis lessons with a star. So if it is Wozniacki – well she’s probably a little to high up but anyway… so they bridge the two. And many private people today because it’s all about being individual now. They’re being very ambitious on their kids’ behalf and they hire these people to have to do those things.
I’m just thinking out loud now: Why don’t athletes do that? I meanwhy don’t you say, okay well if there’s four athletes okay…But in the company ther’s probably thirty young bright kids who want to be a ski star so why don’t you hire any to teach them to be more competitive be more skiing whatever… instead of having a company out in the world who’s taking a fee for for doing it. I think that could be a great way of doing sponsorship perhaps.
And then you can offer that maybe in sailing as well or something else. Interesting for sure.
Anja: So what about the role of social media? Because now we have a lot of athletes posting whatever to keep getting more and more followers and some have an impressive amount of followers and I guess there can be some power in that…
Is that also – when you talked about traps, is that also what you were thinking about?
Keld: I think it’s funny that…. I still think even though we joked about it being new media – it is still new media. I think there’s still so many people who maybe – including myself – who don’t really understand the power of the the new media, social media, the influencers and stuff like that. We did a big part in ice hockey where we tried to use influencers.
I think there are traps because you can be sure that there’s many of these influencers that you hire or you ask to help you out – some want to have a lot of money, some are fairly proud just to be associated with it more or less.
Nevertheless, you need to ask obligations of these people because many times they think of themselves as being a gift of God so to speak. So it’s a little bit the same… you need to prepare yourself properly and you need to set certain rules or basics and some commitments to these influencers about how they can help either associate your brand or how they can help associate other things…does that make sense?
I think that’s one thing. I think influencers have enormous power in many ways. I’ve seen many of those. And I think also when I go out and advice today – it’s a really new area for me as well, but I have much more in my pocket now…. We should definitely look at upon the influencers because they can make an extreme difference if they are managed welland executed on so to speak.
And maybe that’s also a way out for athletes to be more…. associated. And I think most athletes it has a strong profile on but again I think it’s also about being a professional also, having people who can help you. Because I understand… how can a fifteen, sixteen years old kid who is focused on trying to be the best in a particular sport also have time for that… So he needs to have this organization. It takes a lot of..
Anja: It take some of the focus away…
Anja: I just watched a movie with it’s a basketball player yeah trying to make it but then some stuff happens and he can’t get in the American College System because somehow this judge is being professional. But what he does then is, he takes his social media following and gets them all involved and in a way that’s what allows him to take the step into becoming professional… because he’s just always walking around with that camera…. And that’s what we can do today.
Back when I was skiing who would come out and watch us on a early Saturday morning way out in the mountains…? Nobody!
But now we have this power to take people with us out there virtually yeah and of course that’s what’s being used more and more.
Keld: I think that’s a – particularly in individual sports like skiing and others – but I think it’s a fantastic tool you have there. Because – okay I’m a little bit biased, I’m a big fan of skiing so maybe I’m a little bit pro on that one.
But I think you know I’ve watched many videos – or small small clips of it actually – but I’m amazed at how well executed they are and I follow many freestylers and everything else because I think it’s great and and you can also see it works. And you can see many of the – particularly the sports brands are really taking that advantage and using different social media platforms. I think that is fantastic.
I think also, just going back to one of the conservative sports, speaking of social media, you see most big football clubs today…Once they’ve done their match, there’s a bunch of guys running out to them on the pits to strap them with a GoPro camera or something like that. And then they’re running around doing all sorts of crazy things. And if you look at the the club’s website, it is amazing what they do. If you did that two years ago, people would say are you crazy – don’t even do that! And you still see unfortunately too many of these football players say no to it. But I just saw on my own club FC Copenhagen, they do it quite well. I think it’s great pictures – and it’s something which TV cannot provide either.
I know TV has a problem with it. That’s another thing.
Anja: But can TV actually impose …. and say like we’re exclusive and you cannot do anything like that?
Keld: No not really I think that’s – to be honest I don’t know the exact contract – but it looks like that’s not part of the contract. But I think it’s the opposite. I think many times the clubs provide that to TV. Now, whether that’s part of a contract, I’m not sure.
Anja: That’s good that makes sense…. because often we as athletes will have possibilities of making images that they can’t get so that’s also something to do. So right when you cross the finish line you just…
Keld: yeah yeah but that’s it. I think it’s a and I’ll you say you know I think some of the freeriders now they have a helmet camera on nowadays.
Anja: oh yeah even back when I did it there we’ve got a helmet come on and and once we were down gave them the card and they could
Keld: that’s great that’s the way to do it. You know pictures are worth so much more… I think a philosopher said that once – it’s much stronger than words. I think it is true. We still are in that world.
People love to see great videos, great stuff.
Anja: yeah I still to this day have people who when I show them a video or when they find a video on YouTube who say: Oh is that what you were doing? Because they just don’t know, right.
Keld: yeah that’s great
Anja: So how did you find out that that was what you wanted to do in life? I mean it sounds like a terrible job! Haha!
Keld: Well it is, I think it is accidental. It really is you know. I was – and I’m not gonna bore you with my whole story because I’m an old man – but I’ll say I had no plans to A) be in commercial business. I really wanted to be a forester or a professional football player – but I was not good enough. So quickly I went to the academic and forest was really tough to be in and then I started getting into commercial and took an MBA at the Copenhagen School of Business. And my third job by coincidence was to become involved in Carlsberg. Again I was not really – like everybody else I loved beer and I drink beer but I hadn’t planned and I was sure that was gonna be three years nothing else.
But somehow I was lucky because Carlsberg was in the at the verge of trying to develop itself to an international brand. We didn’t have too much money – I know that sounds a little bit pathetic when
you know how much many money they have today. But really marketing budget was little. So I took the chance to say well I think being involved in marketing, I think maybe sport could help us – because
sports is big, broad and wide. So maybe we could do something like that. And the first one we signed was actually the world European championship football. And people saw how much it could develop and
also that became so like my DNA and and Carlsberg’s DNA and I continued for 22 years.
But it also became more and more evident that actually we were becoming much more… we had become very number fixed. Not so emotional anymore. And I kind of feltthat: okay, my time is finished and I really want to develop myself. And I was thinking about going to a bigger job but I think I always had this urge to try and find out what is on the other side.
So well I love sports. I’ve always done quite well in terms of what we’ve done, so I thought why don’t you try and give this a chance and see if I can go out there and make a difference. I think my advantage
was that I had seen both sides which many agencies many advisers they’re either on one side or the other side. I think so far so good that has been my little advantage that I understand both sides of the coin. so yeah that’s what I do and I’m extremely
happy with what I do. I think it’s fantastic to work with sport and sports management and branding in general.
Anja: Yeah and it seems like you pretty successful, getting big contracts, helping these organizations like for example with the Ice Hockey World Championships. It’s not so famous here in Denmark, but it was held in Denmark and so you have to like educate a whole lot of people.
Keld: yeah the philosophy we had was okay, first of all we hired the best people we could get. We hired a very, very good CMO, Maja Grimnitz
who actually happens to
be in my department before in Calrsbeger and I knew her very well and I knew she came out of Asia where she’s done a lot for the UFC Fighting Championship.
But the whole idea was to say we hire good people and also we don’t
want to look upon it as an ice hockey championship because ice hockey it’s not a well-known sport to Denmark so we looked upon as a big event. And we created sort of like hero universe that, you know, the
heroes are coming to town and so we focused very much on that.
It was not about ice hockey only – and that was actually a big challenge because of course you have the old Federation – with no disrespect, they’ve done a very good job. But they said well it’s all about ice hocey. I said, well if you want to get 300,000 people – or more – you need to sell the story that this is a big event and it’s actually, as a matter of fact, the biggest event ever coming to
Denmark. So tell that story. Communicate that story to the people of Denmark. Then they’ll start saying: Wow! We need to go and see that because it’s not gonna come again tomorrow.
And I think that was one of the successful elements we had. Then what took us by surprise was that actually – normally you say 30% of the visitors are from foreign countries – We ended up with 50%
And today I still don’t have a clue of why, but apparently hockey
fans travel a lot. So they came from all over the world from Canada, Russia, Slovakia, Czech and so on and so forth. So that was also strong success. So we had many matches were there 50% of the public
were from different countries. And also amazingly, contrary to football fans, hockey fans love to be together despite the fact
that they are rivals on the ice.
So it was a very big success and I only played a small part in that. I’ll say the organization was really really good and I think what I was helping with was that I had my experience and I could help you what you
Anja: So yeah that’s me that’s right up my alley
I think the storytelling – because that’s what I’m preaching – you gotta know your story, and know those little stories in your story, that are of value to other people because that’s how you can become of value to other people.
Keld: 100 percent.
Anja: Whether that’s as a sports team or as one person.
Keld: But you’re absolutely right and I think that was exactly what we did and you hit the right button when you say storytelling
because it was the story telling about: The heroes are coming to Denmark. And they are coming from all over the place. From big hocket nations like Canada, USA,
Russia, Wow!.. They’re coming actually to play in our country where we have 24 hockey arenas and 4500 people playing active hockey.
I mean I saw the joke where someone said: 4500 players! They have more referees in the Toronto area for a hockey. So you know we couldn’t really sell ourselves as a hockey nation. But we could sell ourselves as bringing two great arenas, great atmosphere, great
people blah blah blah. All these things and I think that was really where we made a point of difference.
And from what I heard, wrapping everything up you know that the
international ice hockey federation said that this is one of the best events ever! And I have to say come on that’s a very big achievement coming from nations like Russia and Sweden and whoever else you know… I think they could be very proud – or everybody can be very proud – because it was always about the team. Coming back to that. It was a team effort. There was a lot of volunteers there was a relatively small group of 100% full-time deployed and everybody paid such contribution. And I think that was a great story to tell and
I think that will be told for many years.
My point is – and that’s probably also a little warning to federations and…: The problem many times is that the federations and sports property rights holders, whatever, they still think very short term. So when you ask them, what is going to happen now, you know, people
-You know, you should tell that story! That story should continue. That’s a great story to tell out in the clubs out when recruiting new people to play hockey and so on and so forth.
And that’s where many times people stop here and then they don’t pick it up….
Anja: Okay let’s say now you’re out with a client. A company who
was considering whether or not to go into a sponsor deal. What are the things that you would be looking at?
Keld: Number one – and I said there many times in our conversation – it’s all about relevance. I mean is it relevant for you, your company or your product or your brand? Why is there a connection?
So that’s my first question to any potential client. And it’s a very simple question but you won’t believe how many people here have never thought about that. You know sometimes the simple question
is in a way the most difficult question. So that’s what I look at.
Then of course I look upon your target group, relevance, media exposure, other activities you can use with it.
And first and foremost also – What sort of budget do we have? I mean
are you in for buying the big Champions League in football – or are you in for having a small sponsorship which goes really well for you on a particular market?
Are you on different platforms and what can you use it for? That’s the thing.
and I think one of the things I preach this very much when I do speeches… I think you know sponsorship is two things:
It is you need to know your facts. You need to understand
that there is a return for you in terms of your cool facts in terms of the numbers, money and stuff like that.
But it’s also a lot about heart and emotions.
And I used to say… and I’ve had to make that change in my own
perception because I used to say: Yeah we can measure everything! If you can’t measure a sponsorship don’t do it!
It’s not really true because I think the you can measure so many things today. But where sponsorship makes the difference is that it’s very much personal, engaging and it’s emotional. And I think that is the success sponsorships still can have among companies and among brands. Yeah you need to get your basics right. You cannot just throw out something that’s completely nuts. But it’s also important
that you find that engaging, emotional button which you can activate your sponsorship with. So that’s some of the questions I really ask
when I start looking into it.
Anja: So actually that gives an extra angle for relevance… Say you have this brand and you want people to feel a certain way with this
brand yeah -either if it’s like a clothing brand – you want them to feel prestigious or glamorous or whatever… Then that feeling should go through into the sponsorships that you make and communicate that glamour
Keld: yeah. And it’s not necessarily that every….
Let’s be honest you know it’s not all brands and all companies who has a natural association. And if there aren’t don’t do it. Please don’t do it because it’s the worst thing is also a mismatch.
Because I’ve had many places where I’ve come and they
say: yeah we have the sponsorship in the drawer, you know we pay hundred thousand euros a year – and frankly, we don’t know what to do with it. And I looked at it and say, well I understand that.
It’s nuts. So either get rid of it – or try and figure out how to activate it if you can. If you cannot, then stop the relationship.
And that’s also…. I become a little nerdy, but I think that’s also where many times, the trap is, because you get very emotional or
attached to it either because you love skiing, or you love football and many there is still the CEO sponsorships. But even though it’s become much better, it’s still a fact many times it is. It’s not a bad thing as long as the CEO or the management of this company understand that we also need to make it relevant for my company – not only for me personally – but also my company for what we do.
And I think that’s still a question to ask wherever you go and it’s not always being answered very correctly.
But otherwise it is a a classical marketing model you know. You need to look at your target group, your area of responsibility, the reach of the sponsorship, and all these things need to become part of your mix.
And what I think it’s very important – and many companies don’t do their homework – it’s about research. You need to research and find out. Select your sponsorship portfolio and say: I want to be involved in X,Y and Z, before you take it. Instead of having to be sort of spontaneous. Ah okay, I met Anja, she’s good looking and I liked her, she’s a good skier. Let’s do it.
It’s good for you, but I think from a company point of view it’s not necessarily so.
So that’s some of the things you need to have to take into consideration – and still unfortunately many companies don’t do that.
Anja: And why do most companies …
is there like… I guess there must be some reasons why you’d wanna go into sports sponsorships?
Keld: There is a group of professional companies who know why they
want to be sponsoring… Of course naturally associated, sports brands and stuff like that. They know exactly why they do it.
Then there’s a different bunch of companies including my
former company Carlsberg who also knows why they are doing it.
But then there’s still a big group of unknowns who doesn’t really know exactly why they are doing it. They don’t have a strategy for what they’re doing then and they become very emotionally and attached driven. It’s all spontaneously driven to: “-okay yeah yeah why don’t we take this. I happen to now someone who knows someone and they need some support…”
It’s good for the athletes, I can only say that…
Anja: But only short-term right?
Keld: Yeah yeah. It became cliche but it’s a partnership. You need to be a partnership. If you cannot offer a partnership, don’t go there.
And it works both ways. That’s really my message to both sides of the coin, so to speak. I think that’s very important. And too many don’t realize that
Anja: What are some of the most common mistakes you see people making there when they go looking for a sponsor – on the athlete side or team?
Keld: First of all the most common mistake is that they haven’t done their homework. They’re not prepared well. So they go into these meetings with a bit of feeling: okay well they should sponsor
me because I’m the best gift to this company. But if you ask the question back and say so why ?
Most the time they’ll say: just because I’m good or it’s my sport. I think that’s really that’s the most common mistake people make.
And then it’s also that a certain kind of laziness – maybe that’s little bit unfair – but or confidently saying: okay well I can
only… I’m a good ski or a good tennis player but frankly I don’t really care about what else it takes for me to become partner with this company.
So it’s a little bit of ignorance… Not saying that they’re bad people. That’s
not what I’m saying I’m just saying they are a little bit of ignorance – or naive in what it takes for me to come in. And it’s – coming back to earlier in our conversation – it’s all about selling: You need to sell yourself on a very, very strong performance because otherwise you won’t get it. So I think that’s…
Anja: And you might as well learn that because it’s gonna
be like that for the rest of your life.
Keld: oh yeah yeah it is. You know it’s in any aspect of what I’m doing today also. That’s it’s not easy either and everybody
knows that. You need to put yourself out there and make sure that… you have your five minutes or ten minutes or whatever it is and you need to perform like hell – or not like hell – the best you can do sorry. And and that’s really important.
Then there is: Not understanding the business right.
They haven’t really thought about what is it that actually the business does.
I mean classical thing: check – it’s so easy today. You have corporate websites where you go in and find out:
what exactly it stands for, why is it they could become a potential sponsor for me, is there a link?
I used to say when I do my things, put relevance together. Find out on
one side they have X, Y and Z values. Do these values compare to what you stand for and things like that?
Its’ simple stuff but unfortunately most times people either tend to forget it, are lazy about it or don’t really understand it.
So it takes a lot of preparation to go into a meeting. And also getting the meeting – today it’s a buzzword but anyways: Networks.
You know you need to start founding network to ensure that you know someone who knows something. Because if you call in and say I am Anja or I’m Keld, I want to have a sponsor, most people say: fine call me again tomorrow and I don’t have time tomorrow either.
And then also I think many times they have too high expectation compared to the output. So you know okay well I want – I’m just making up numbers now – but okay, I want 100,000 or 500,000 euros. But if you look at it from the other side:
Well come on, I can only see the value of maybe fifty thousand so even there, they start getting it wrong. So it’s also about thinking about what it means.
Anja: And how important is it to put on a number?
Keld: I think, why don’t you just tell things upfront and tell me this is what I get. Because then you don’t disappoint anyone. Instead of… I see many clients I’m working with and we try to
meet up and have a good chat and we chit chat and you know then you
have meeting two maybe three maybe four and finally at meeting five you say: This is what I want. And people are like: wow okay that was not what I expected! I thought something different. Now I’m not saying… it’s also nice to have a couple of meetings because that’s… it could also be good approach to come in…well
I’m here I’d very much like to become partner with you, what what would that take?
Most companies will take that as an invitation and be serious about it. But there’s always a risk because also you know we live in it in a time where things are moving like this (very fast). So the guy who is brand manager or whatever has a thousand other things now. So he easily
forgets that. And he is very nice and says yeah that’s a great idea. Now come back in two weeks and then we’ll discuss again. By that time he hasn’t done anything about it…
It’s about again… I used to say: As an athlete or an organization who want to look for a sponsor, you need to create your toolbox. And that toolbox has to be ready to give to the sponsor to say this is what I have – he can open it up and there’s almost everything in it so he doesn’t need to make very much decision. He makes one decision that is whether he wants to get you on board, pay the money you asked before or not. Because there’s so many different offers out there today – and it’s fragmented again we come back to that – there’s no time for it. There’s not people that are employed just only to be a sponsorship manager for instance. They are everything else. Ee need to get their attention and having attention is to make their life easy
Anja: yeah we have to think of what does he have to do from here. Who does he or she have to present it to. How does he or she sell it to the other people maybe…
Keld: yeah that’s. That’s another – coming back to mistakes – I think there’s one mistake many athletes do.
They all say okay we have to go to the CEO because he’s the on to make the decision. It’s and you can be lucky. But many times you can also be unlucky because the CEO has a good organization. He has his team he trusts very much. So if he comes down to a marketing manager who’s the one who actually have to live with it on a daily basis. “Oh I
signed a deal with Anja by the way…”
And the marketing manager says: Why didn’t you tell me? I mean why didn’t you ask me to get involved. So it works sometimes very negative. On the other hand, if you go to the marketing manager, then he needs to go to the CEO to convince the CEO. And there’s
nothing better for him than to have a box of convincing tools – which you have provided him with, saying that’s the reason why.
Then is easy for him. And many times athletes or organizations have not done that. And that’s a problem. That, I think, is very important.
Anja: In a way it’s the same dynamics as when you pitch a story to a
newspaper or whatever. You want to see how you can make the journalist’s life easier.
Keld: yeah, you need to to carve out the story and then he’ll add his small comments and add things on it. And I see that many times also being involved in the media. The more you prepare yourself for that and give that to them, the easier it is, and the better story you get. And that’s the same with sponsorships for sure.
Keld: So how is the future of sponsorships? That’s for me a very good question. I don’t really have the right answer. The only thing I can
see after being involved for almost 30 years in this business, is that there’s been surprisingly little development in the business – which I don’t really understand why. Because it is a big part of people’s lives. And it’s also a big part of people’s life to be contributing to in terms of… I mean people pay enormous amount of money to go and watch sports so it should be relatively easy to try and look out for how to come up with new ideas. That for me is still very surprising.
I think secondly, speaking of disruption – that’s the big word – but it is actually also interesting in sponsorship, because I think there is a need to be much more disruptive – otherwise you will not
survive in the longer run. Coming back to our discussion about TV… many organizations still think it’s great to have TV behind. It is. But TV channels are also suffering and they don’t have the same amount of money anymore.
So everybody including the IOC, UEFA, FIFA whatever… they need to think out of the box – which they don’t at the moment. It’s a lazy way of doing marketing today. It’s again about the 10 points on the paper. You put up 1 million for each – and even 100 million for each – and that’s it.
You need to find a way. The one who dares to do that, I think will win in the long term.
But is also to have the courage and the guts to do it because it means loss of income for a time. And nobody really dares to do that. So we are all a little bit trapped in the same bottleneck.
I think sponsorships will continue on but I think also you will see it change into a much more dynamic – and only small part – of a company’s brand marketing. And whether it’s athletes or big organizations, they’ll need to find out how they can tap into that. And I still don’t think they have done that properly.
But again, like particularly in sports entertainment, I mean we all get more and more time for that and therefore that I think there’s many possibilities of doing sponsorships.
You also need to understand how to do that. I think your own area is fantastic. And I think we will see more people joining into leisure or a mix of leisure and performance art, where you need to come out and live out your own dreams. And I think, that is also an area for sponsorships to get involved in.
Anja: The whole experience economy. And the selfie moments, right?
Keld: Yes, right. And that will continue. . And I think the world of sports somehow, it’s still extremely conservative. Very conservative. And I don’t see why they should be because everybody, from small kids to old, who lives through the sport and love sports so they should somehow be involved in that.
Anja: Maybe the poster child is Red Bull… in experimenting with..
Keld: I think Red Bull has done a fantastic job in both organizing all different events and marketing itself. But I think also – a little comment on this – is that, it’s also easy
for Red Bull. No disrespect but you know, you have a one-man band; the owner who decides on what to do. And he does that and he’s passion! When he is not there anymore how does it look like?
And that’s the thing you know, you can really distinguish between corporations, like the one i was behind in my earlier days, where you have to take into consideration the budget always.
Where a private organization, private owners have much more freedom to go out and say okay we do this and that. But back to athletes – think about that!
Because corporations are really difficult and it’s the nature. I mean I don’t blame them because they have so many… they have a budget of X, say hundred, but you need to find so many different marketing tools within that budget. And I think the days are over you come out and say, okay I want 80 percent of that hundred. That’s not gonna happen anymore, so therefore it’s much more difficult.
Whereas if you have a private person who has a passion for cycling or whatever and he could go all the way in.
Anja: I hope you are listening because this is a good tip!!!
Keld: It is a good tip.
Anja: We will take that with us.
Keld: You need to you need to research the background, understand the product and what is the good storyline. What is it the story you want to tell. That’s some of the things you should take away that’s important.
Regardless of whether it’s the world championships in ice hockey or it’s an individual ski sponsorship or sailing. It’s the same.
I’m often being asked that – particular when i was in Carlsberg – that yeah it’s so easy for you to say you’re successful because you have so much money. That’s why I tell this story about the Olympic Sailing because yeah it’s of course easier when you have a huge budget behind you to do things but sometimes it’s also difficult because – what are you gonna do next time?
And I think it’s not about money…. or it’s the same whether it’s the world championships in ice hockey, Champions League or a small sponsorship. It’s the same mechanism. It’s just you scale it up. but it’s more or less basically the same.
The thing with sponsorship is that it is definitely not a rocket science. It is extremely simple because it’s about people, it’s about emotion – so don’t make it more difficult than it is. It is not difficult. But it’s it’s difficult to
find the hook and attachment to a particular sponsor. That’s the challenge.
Anja: And that’s where we can use people like
Keld: Hopefully yeah..
Anja: Excellent, – well thank you so much – and for showing us this place. This is where you go when you are off work?
Keld: This is where I’ll go almost every morning when I’m here because I love it – if I’m not traveling. It’s a fantastic place I mean – and you hit a good day in Denmark. It’s not very often but it’s great yeah. So thank you for inviting me to this show. Okay
Anja: so thanks again to today’s guests and I gotta say I’m already looking forward to presenting you to yet another fabulous guest in the next episode of Athlete Story. So in the meantime you take care
Keld: okay bye.
If you have any fellow athletes or people who you think could benefit from listening to this, of course I’d be very grateful if you’d
share this podcast with them, thank you.